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REVIEW ROUNDUP: Nightmare Alley Opens at the Geffen Playhouse logo
James Barbour in Nightmare Alley
(© Michael Lamont)
Jonathan Brielle's musical Nightmare Alley, starring James Barbour, opened last night at the Geffen Playhouse. Gilbert Cates has directed the production, which is scheduled to continue through May 13.

Based on the eponymous novel by William Lindsay Gresham, the musical is set against the shadowy world of the traveling carnivals and tented churches that dominated the Dust Bowl era. Barbour stars as Stan Carlisle, the con turned carnie and back again, who falls in love with the dark darling of the traveling carnival.

The cast also includes Melody Buitu (Tarot Lady), Larry Cedar (Pete/Sheriff/Addie Peabody), Sarah Glendening (Molly), Michael McCarty (Clem/ Ezra Grimble), Mary Gordan Murray (Zeena/ Dr. Lilith Ritter), Anise E. Ritchie (Tarot Lady), Leslie Stevens (Tarot Lady), and Alet Taylor (Tarot Lady).

The creative team includes Gerald Sternbach (music director), John Arnone (set), Christina Haatainen Jones (costumes), Daniel Ionazzi (lighting), and Brian Hsieh (sound).

The reviews are in and critics are finding promise, if not satisfaction, with the show.

Among the reviews are:

Los Angeles Times
Theater review: Nightmare Alley at the Geffen Playhouse
"But mystery and tension are in short supply in this promising yet unfocused world premiere. A strong premise, solid cast and often-appealing score don't quite come together to make "Nightmare" the satisfying, dark entertainment it wants to be."


"Despite the show's unevenness, its final image -- creepy and inevitable -- suggests the diabolical vibe Brielle wants to access. Geffen favorite Ricky Jay was in the house on opening night. One only wishes that this master magician's signature qualities -- the ability to weave a spellbinding tale out of thin air, a sense of the unexpected, old-school gravitas -- were more on view inside Nightmare's carnival tent."

Orange County Register
In L.A., Nightmare Alley brings noir tale to creepy life
"There are times, particularly in the second act, when the story descends into melodrama and James Barbour, as Stan, pushes his portrayal over the top, turning into a blustering parody of Carousel's Billy Bigelow."


"And not all of Brielle's songs and dialogue are as sharp as they should be. He needs a trusted associate to lend a hand with his heavy creative load, which includes book, music and lyrics. The songs could also benefit from a larger ensemble than the sometimes thin-sounding quintet conducted by Gerald Sternbach."

Nightmare Alley
"One of America's deepest, darkest, dirtiest noir fictions, William Lindsay Gresham's "Nightmare Alley," is bowdlerized and sanitized for your protection in Jonathan Brielle's musicalization at the Geffen Playhouse. While the novel still shocks today as it exposes the nexus of religion, spiritualism and sensuality underlying the American dream, here it's reduced to a humdrum showbiz-as-life decadence metaphor..."

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